Warning: this piece contains strong language
In 1995 a friend of mine, living in Brighton, invited me to his wedding, so I journeyed down from Skye to attend. Arriving on Friday, and not wishing to be in his way, I explored the town. Whilst sitting outside this seafront pub, I noticed a local newspaper article concerning an established beach community, which had been around for some years, but had been forcibly evicted. The arches where they once lived, were now walled-up with concrete blocks. Photos also showed a pitiful heap of practical items, indicative of their basic lifestyle...beach bums, harmless. Simply because a Tory Party conference was being held, a clean-up of the town was instated, these folk being the easy targets.
I slipped away from the wedding reception the moment the bride and groom departed, off towards the sea, about a mile from Brighton centre. I walked, in time arriving at the rudely blocked up arches. I saw the eviction heap and noticed banners, those homeless were protesting nearby. On speaking to these young folk, I learned that some of them had began a squat on the ruinous West Pier. Looking, I saw banner-sheets, spray-painted, declaring to the town that they protested this eviction. I immediately knew I would do my best to assist, since I loathe bullies.
Walking close to the rusty island of the West Pier, I could see the access ladder just offshore. As I weighed it up, two plain clothed policemen who had been on duty, made loud as I walked into the water in my black suit, white shirt, tie, suede shoes. The water was waist deep, the lower rungs of the access ladder had plastic bags tied to them covered with margarine, a protesters deterrent to ascent. I have climbed worse rock faces in real life, so scooted up. The two officers shouted “You can't do that!” Too late... A hatch upon a padlocked chain opened roughly twelve inches, faces appeared. I said I was here to help, taking off my white silk shirt so I could squeeze through without damaging it, a Scottish guy clocked my biker tattoos. I talked with them. Rows of ornate guest houses lined the promenade. I knew we could be under surveillance from there. The protesters needed food and water; I said I would get it to them by the next day.
Descending the ladder and finding the tide had come in a touch, I swam towards the two enraged plain clothed policeman. The instant my feet touched dry pebbles, I turned and bolted, I ran like hell, outdistancing them quickly. I saw a shattered tidal-break wall, concrete and rusted reinforced rods, vertical. My out. I was up it in a shot, jumping past a family picnic. I made quick for the back alleys. Once safely returned to the flat, I ruminated on a plan.
Up early, I packed, leaving my small rucksack for retrieval. Returning along the promenade towards the West Pier, I noticed an enormous increase in police numbers. I utilised side roads and eventually found a “New Age Traveller” type van. They were NOT into being woken early.
“Oo' the fack are you?” a Southern accent snarled. “The food”, I replied.
A talkative girl soon accompanied me to an early opening store where I bought supplies. In the supermarket this plain clothed officer kept asking annoying, seemingly friendly questions. I paid, then gave the girl the food saying I would meet her at the van. On the way I was followed by two plain clothed. I ran. They ran. I shifted gear and jetted, running parallel to a railway. Jumping the fence on seeing a tunnel, I made for it. I could hear complaining behind me as I ran through darkness. It was dangerous, but I lost them there.
Using back lanes and adrenaline assisted situational awareness, I returned to the travellers van. By this time a crowd of youths had gathered. On approach, some treated me like a dear old friend. Many asked, “What do we do?” So I told them.
I instructed these kids to collect empty plastic bottles with the tops on, I needed lots. In quick time, dozens scuttled at my feet. I divided both food and water into two equal packages, these wrapped in bin bags, then tied off. Putting each bundle into another set of double bin bags, and packing around with as many plastic bottles as possible, tying them off too. Buoys! Regular uniformed officers were watching from the road above. I then instructed the two keenest, fittest young warriors to carry a bag-buoy each and for the others to pick up furniture and stuff from the eviction pile. Then all to walk toward the West Pier police cordon, carrying their belongings, appearing to intend to squat there. Plus, it was important to time swimming-out correctly. The two lads with important provisions merged into the colourful crowd. “Are you coming?” someone asked excitedly. “No” I responded, “I am going to have a gas losing this lot”, indicating the officers observing us. Immediately upon returning to the road, the police were onto me. I did another runner and really had to work hard keeping them at a distance. I passed a church, the service was on so I nipped in. Picking up a hymnal, I sang as a good chap aught. When the faithful stood up again, I ducked down and scuttled quickly out. I think I was unobserved. Stopping outside a second-hand shop, in a donations cardboard box I found a shirt, I put it on, adding a stupid hat.
Needing to know what had happened, I returned to a vantage point where I could watch the flood of youths bearing loads. At the exact moment, when the remaining urchins confronted approximately 100 police of every sort, my mind willed “NOW!” The two lads broke away and swam to the West Pier access ladder. I saw them get through.
Knowing the railways and bus stations would be watched, I walked from Brighton to Exeter, along the South Downs Way.